White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley downplayed reports Friday that the Trump administration was considering invoking the Insurrection Act to remove immigrants from the country — but he didn’t rule out that it was still on the table.
“There are lots of tools at [President Donald Trump’s] disposal,” Gidley said, speaking with Fox & Friends. “We haven’t used them all and we’re looking at ways to protect the American people.”
Gidley’s comments were received warmly by the live studio audience which applauded enthusiastically about the idea of using the military to force out undocumented immigrants at gunpoint.
“That would be great,” host Brian Kilmeade responded. “Last time we used [the Insurrection Act], I believe, was the L.A. riots where the military came in and said we are going to need military presence there. The military is there [at the border] but they can’t do as much as they want.”
Sixty-three people were killed and 2,383 were injured in the 1992 Los Angeles riots Kilmeade referenced Friday, after police and military forces were deployed to snuff out riots and protests against the acquittal of several police officers involved in the brutal beating of a black man, Rodney King, whose arrest one year earlier was captured on video.
Gidley’s comments come one day after Trump announced his new immigration plan, and hours after conservative outlet The Daily Caller reported that Trump plans to invoke the Insurrection Act to remove undocumented immigrants from the country using military force. The report cited “multiple senior administration officials” who said the White House was “doing the Insurrection Act.”
Under the Insurrection Act of 1807, the president has the authority to use military force within the country’s borders, but only in the very specific instances of “insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” It can also be invoked in disaster scenarios, but only if there is such widespread domestic violence that local authorities cannot maintain public order.
The presence of undocumented immigrants in the country in no way meets these qualifications. One of the officials who spoke to The Daily Caller seemed to recognize that Trump would surely face legal challenges if he actually tried to invoke the act, but they were also optimistic that the Supreme Court would side with Trump as it did in upholding his Muslim travel ban.
Trump seemed to reinforce the idea that he would invoke military force in a tweet Friday morning, in which he described building up “removal forces.”
All people that are illegally coming into the United States now will be removed from our Country at a later date as we build up our removal forces and as the laws are changed. Please do not make yourselves too comfortable, you will be leaving soon!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2019
“All people that are illegally coming into the United States now will be removed from our Country at a later date as we build up our removal forces and as the laws are changed,” he wrote. “Please do not make yourselves too comfortable, you will be leaving soon!”
The Insurrection Act has never been invoked to address immigration, but its use throughout history has almost always been connected to racial tensions in the country.
It was last used by President George H. W. Bush in response to the aforementioned Los Angeles riots, and in 1957, when President Dwight Eisenhower used federal troops to enforce the desegregation of Arkansas’ public schools.